Golden Opportunities

A win is a win, no matter how you slice it. A draw isn’t winning, but at least it’s not losing. So far this season, FC Barcelona have won every game they’ve played but two, against Atlético de Madrid and Olympiakos, which they drew. Say what you will about the team’s form, its depth, or the tactics of Ernesto Valverde, they’ve had, at least record-wise, a tremendous start to the 2017-18 season. They’ve put themselves in a great position early on, especially in La Liga. Players like Lionel Messi, Samuel Umtiti, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are at a world-class level of form. And while Valverde’s tactics may rub some of us the wrong way, at least he’s willing to take risks. That being said, we can’t waste the golden opportunities we have now.

Of course, none of this means anything if they can’t keep it up. It’s true that at times this side has struggled to score and suffers from lackluster midfield play. The return of Andrés Iniesta should help against Sevilla, but the loss of Sergi Roberto to a hamstring injury doesn’t. To a lesser extent, the loss of André Gomes to a thigh problem hurts the team as well. They’ll both be out for at least a month, a month in which our depth will truly be tested.

Roberto’s ability to play basically any position is one we don’t really have a replacement for. The sooner he can be back, the better. Gomes, while not quite up to the level we’d like him to be, isn’t terrible. With those two out, Valverde will be forced to explore other options.

These injuries may just turn out to be a blessing in disguise, however. The injury to Gomes means that Denis Suárez might get more run time. So far this season, he’s played well and has fans imploring Valverde to play him more. The injury to Sergi Roberto might pave the way for increased minutes to Nelson Semedo, another player fans have wanted to see more of. For good reason – he’s played very well the few times he’s featured. The ideal would be to play both Semedo and Roberto, moving Roberto up to midfield, but we’ll get to see the Portuguese right back more either way.

I’m a huge Sergi Roberto fan, and I do think his injury is pretty bad news. However, now is the time for Ivan Rakitić and Paulinho to step up. We all know what Paulinho brings to the table: physicality, an eye for goal, and good attention to defense. Time will tell if his ability to pass and control the midfield will appear. Rakitić, in my opinion, is a great player under a bad run of form right now. Can he reach his heights of the 2014-15 season? I fear we’ll need him to as soon as possible.

Iniesta and Sergio Busquets shouldn’t be worried about. They bring to the table what they’ve always brought, consistently. My only fear is that Iniesta seems to be getting old, quite frankly. Will our depth be enough to keep him healthy and playing well?

Luis Suárez… it’s hard to explain what’s happening to him right now. It’s not that the chances aren’t there, it’s just that he seems unable to string two good plays together even once. He’s missing sitters that he would never have dreamed of missing two years ago. If his knee is bothering him, it might be excusable, but if it is an injury affecting him like this, then should he even be playing?

That being said, November isn’t an easy month, with matches against Sevilla this weekend and Valencia, this season’s revelation, on the 26th. If you ask me, this isn’t just a flash in the pan, by the way, Marcelino’s Valencia are the real deal. Champions League matches against Juventus and Sporting Lisbon, who recently battled each other to a 1-1 draw, also loom in the distance.

Sometimes, inexplicably, maybe due to schedule or other factors, teams that aren’t playing very well manage to win. While everyone would love to see Valverde’s squad play better, I’m perfectly content with this level of form as long as we can continue winning.

Despite the problems we have, we are first in La Liga, with an eight point lead on arch rivals Real Madrid as well as Atleti. Valencia, sitting in the second spot, have 24 points to our 28. 28 points out of 30 possible isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. In the Champions League, comfortable in the group, Barcelona have also gotten good results. Most notably, a 3-0 domination of Juventus.

We have problems, no doubt about it. This coming month won’t be easy, and I do expect a slip-up eventually. But despite these problems, we’re in a good position right now. We have a golden opportunity to survive this month. If we can make it out of November with some cohesion and maintain some of the lead we have right now, we’ll be in good shape. We’re not playing particularly well, but it’s hard to argue with results.

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  • Eivind Niclasen

    The team shouldn´t be under any form of pressure right now, regardless of their position in the table. Expectations are lower than they were two years ago. The last couple of years have been about Real Madrid, whose long ball and crossing gameplan have conquered the world. Meanwhile, Barca´s team is crumbling; Messi, Umtiti, Busquets and ter Stegen have all been standout performers, while the rest of the team fluctuates between mediocrity and utter shite. Being on top of the league and winning its group in the CL by now, is an heroic effort to pull off with a team as poorly balances as this one. There is very little midfield to speak of, Suarez continues to fire blanks and Deulofeu just runs with the ball before being dispossessed. But so far, Umtiti and ter Stegen have kept clean sheets in most games this season, while Messi has habitually saved the team at the other end. No need to mention the midfield, because it consists of only one player – Sergio Busquets, the best no.6 on the planet.

    • Peter Tinkler

      Iniesta has had a very decent start to the season as well I think, but Barca can’t expect to rely on him every game for the duration of the season. It does worry me once we play a team that is particularly strong in midfield, they’ll most likely dominate. Juve away and Valencia away are threatening fixtures. I’d love to see a quality midfield addition in January, but who?

      • Eivind Niclasen

        First and foremost a controller. Coutinho has similar qualities to Iniesta, can dribble, assist and read the game very well. He also scores goals, which is something Iniesta rarely does. He is cup tied this season, but would definitely add a lot in both midfield and the left flank. The truth is that despite the abundance of midfielders available, at least on paper, there are only three current blaugranas who are (maybe) good enough for Barca´s midfield. Busquets continues to be his classy self, Rakitic has largely been awful for two seasons straight and Iniesta plays well when he is available. If Rakitic could somehow relocate his 2014/15 form, the team could at least challenge for the league and the copa. The CL will have to wait for now.

  • Jordan Saf

    Obviously points are what matters most, but that shouldn’t stop Management from improving the squad and planning for the future.

    Historically, Barca has been one of the few teams in Europe that have always had a strong spine; we had it in Valdez-Puyol-Xavi-Messi and today we have it in Stegen-Umtit-Busquets-Messi. Those 4 are why we are sitting we are.

    Still on the positive side, Semedo and Paulinho are such welcome additions, and Deulofeu is a great back to the front 3. Roberto is excellent and Iniesta is often the solution (when he’s fit enough).

    The above would comprise 6 out of the typical starting 11, so what about the others?

    Alba, Pique and Rakitic are inconsistent in an ascending order. Alba started the season in electric then dropped to average, Pique is just not a defender I trust game in game out, and Rakitic is still in his sub par form that started in his second season.

    Denis Suarez is not getting enough minutes to build enough momentum so I can’t confidently comment on his performance. Gomez to me simply does not cut it at Barca and should have been shipped out already.

    Suarez, his bad form is such a loss to Barca. Our goal difference stat would have been at least double what it is if he was in form. I don’t understand how his knee is the problem. If it was he wouldn’t have been able to run, jump, turn, pass. This is on Valverde, he has the responsibility of motivating players to find their form.


    Who else noticed that when we lose possession, the players start withdrawing and sucking the other team in? Could be a tactic by Valverde to unleash a counter; it has worked on a few occasions, but I am not comfortable with how close we let them in and how many passes other teams are able to string between their players. This is my only reservation on Valverde.

    He should be allowed the freedom to tinker with formation, squad selection, try different things. Don’t understand why people keep bitching and moaning about it. He’s the one with actual professional coaching experience, not you, not me.